Martin Van Buren (1782-1862) was the eighth president and the first to take office who was born an American citizen. He was born to Dutch parents on December 5, 1782 – just six years after the colonists declared independence from Britain. His father was a farmer and tavern keeper in Kinderhook, New York. Van Buren stood about five feet six inches tall. His nickname was “the Little Magician,” though his enemies also referred to him as “the Fox” for his sly political maneuvers.
As a young adult, Van Buren studied and practiced law. He opened his own practice in 1803 and then, four years later, married his childhood sweetheart, Hannah Hoes. The couple had four sons, but Hannah died of tuberculosis in 1819.
Van Buren believed in the same type of politics as Thomas Jefferson. He favored states’ rights over a strong federal government. He began his political career by serving two terms from 1812 to 1820 in the New York State Senate. From there, he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1821. In 1824, John Quincy Adams won the presidency and sparked a lot of controversy. Van Buren helped to form a group that supported Andrew Jackson during the election, and this new group became the Democratic Party.
Van Buren won the presidential election in 1836, but the nation was in a financial panic that was partially caused by the now-defunct bank. This drove the nation to its worst depression in history. His office was also hurt because of a long and very expensive war with the Seminole Indians of Florida. In 1844, Van Buren tried to get re-elected but was beaten by James K. Polk.
But Van Buren wasn’t done with politics yet. He helped form the Free Soil Party. Democrats who were against slavery backed the former president in creating the new party. In 1848, he ran for president as the Free Soil candidate. Charles Francis Adams, son of former president John Quincy Adams, was the vice-presidential nominee. Their platform centered on the problems of slavery, but after the votes were tallied, Van Buren only received 10% of the votes and lost to Zachary Taylor.
After another loss at the presidential seat, Van Buren retired to his Kinderhook estate. He continued to oppose slavery, and wrote an autobiography. He died in July 1862, just a year after the Civil War broke out.